Big Questions About Big Cypress Hunting Plans
First Steps in Opening Vast Big Cypress Addition Lands to Hunting and Trapping
Washington, DC — With a lawsuit looming on its decision to open the “Addition Lands” added to Big Cypress National Preserve in 1988 to off-road vehicle traffic, the National Park Service has begun the process of writing hunting rules for the preserve, including the 147,000-acre Addition which has been closed to all hunting for a generation. According to scoping comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the National Park Service (NPS) has not done a single scientific study on the potential impacts hunting would have on the 30 animals listed by Florida or the federal government as threatened, endangered, or species of special concern which occupy big Cypress.
A paramount concern raised by PEER and others is the impact on the highly endangered Florida panther, for which the Big Cypress lands are prime habitat. In addition, NPS will have to decide which hunting regulations, in addition to state hunting rules, will remain or be jettisoned, such as whether to –
- Continue to ban hunting with dogs (except for game birds), allow trapping of small wildlife or authorize falconry;
- Prohibit hunting in areas denuded by human-caused fires; and
- Adopt any geographic restrictions or no-hunting zones.
“Our principal worry is the National Park Service has not done its homework, in the form of serious scientific study, before making a decision to open one of the wildest places east of the Mississippi to hunting,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Park Service should look far more carefully than it has before taking this leap.”
To accommodate off-road vehicle (ORV) traffic to transport hunters, NPS recently stripped 40,000 acres of Addition lands of their status as “eligible” for possible future designation as wilderness in the middle of its planning evaluation. This abrupt about-face violated NPS policies, precluded public input and was contrary to law, according to a pending administrative complaint by PEER.
In addition, a coalition of groups, including PEER, has filed a notice of intent to sue NPS for violating the Endangered Species Act for anticipated harm to endangered species, such as the Florida panther and red-cockaded woodpecker, and threatened species, such as the Eastern indigo snake, which inhabit the area slated to be carved with ORV trails.
“Disappointingly, the current Park Service leadership is compiling an appalling resource protection record even compared with the Bush years – and recent decisions affecting Big Cypress are Exhibit A,” added Ruch. “At the very least, NPS should shelve this plan until the litigation on its ORV-trail approvals is resolved. Otherwise, this hunting planning process may end up being a big waste of everyone’s time.”